It takes more than a burnt winning post to keep the folks at Buchan and Gelantipy Race Club from running their historic meet. Credit: Country Racing Victoria

Go country racing

Country spirit is at its finest as Buchan gets back on its feet. 

Veteran clerk of the course Ian Dunkley is used to crowds of around 1400 turning up to the Buchan Cup meeting, one of the regional highlights of the picnic racing calendar.

But such has been the outpouring of support for the tiny race club as it battles to recover from the horrific fires that have ravaged the Gippsland and East Gippsland region, that the former publican and Aboriginal affairs administrator has been rushed off his feet because of demand for tickets for the big race day on February 15.

“It’s been like a dream, all the support we have had, even if for me at the moment it can feel a bit like a nightmare as I am trying to get everything done in time,” he jokes. “It doesn't feel like a picnic meeting at Buchan – it feels like trying to put on a Melbourne Cup at Flemington!” he says, as he contemplates the challenge ahead.

The racing community has a reputation for pitching in when one of its members is facing hardship and Buchan – or, to be more accurate, Canni Creek, the nine-resident hamlet where the racecourse is located – was in a world of pain after the bushfires roared through the area, badly damaging parts of the racecourse.

Had it not been for the quick work of locals like Peter Sandy – who, says Dunkley, virtually saved the course and helped preserve buildings, houses and infrastructure around the track single-handed when the fires swept through – then the track wouldn't have had a chance of putting on its showcase meeting so soon after the devastation scarred the area.

“There’s unprecedented interest in our meeting now. It feels strange, little Buchan, so many hundreds of kilometres from Melbourne, but we have state and federal members coming, lots of inquiries from visitors who want to come and support the meeting and the area, and plenty of media interest.

“Racing.com is even going to do footage of the Cup on their channel. Country Racing Victoria has helped with a big screen and we will be selling all sorts of memorabilia such as caps, stubby holders and cups, to try and raise money for the area.”

The first weekend in February, just two weeks before the big meeting, perfectly illustrated how locals rallied around to ensure the meeting could go ahead.

The rain may have been lashing Caulfield, turning a good track into a heavy surface in a matter of hours, but in Buchan it was 42 degrees, Dunkley recalls.

“It was very hot, but we had a working bee planned so decided to go on with it. All the regulars turned up despite the conditions and put a big effort into getting the place ready. We had to erect all the inside running rails, replace the outside rails and do a lot of other work, too.”

One of the most iconic images of the Buchan track after the fires was the charred and dilapidated finishing post, a forlorn symbol of the devastation wrought in the area.

Dunkley says the club will keep that in situ for this meeting, but will replace it – thanks to a generous $5,000 grant from The Wakeful Club – with a new one, whose design will reflect the old, burnt post on one side while housing a new finishing marker on the other.

He says there have been other high-profile supporters, like OTI racing’s Terry Henderson, who have donated cash to keep the meeting going. Happily, the biggest beneficiaries will be local organisations who are looking to keep their head above water in the difficult economic times caused by the bushfires.

“All of our proceeds go to local organisations like the Buchan Primary School and the two Bush nursing centres, the Gelantipy and District Bush Nursing Centres and the Buchan Bush Nursing Centre, as well as the Buchan Cemetery Trust. We donate any profits we make from the meeting to them.”

Country spirit at its finest.

Revive the regions

Although supporting all of our country and regional race clubs is important, consider visiting  these country race clubs in the near future, whose communities were affected by the bushfires, to help them get back on their feet or visit Country Racing Victoria to find out about upcoming race days and events.

ACT:  Canberra 

NSW: Bega, Muswellbrook and Nowra

SA:  Kingscote

VIC:  Buchan, Wangaratta and Wodonga